January 18, 2013

Book Review: Pol Pot Anatomy of a Nightmare

Book: Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare
Author: Philip Short
Genre: non-fiction, World History, Cambodian History

Pol Pot was responsible for the death of approximately two million people during the Kmher Rouge rule from 1975 to 1978. In these three years, the agrarian communists annihilated 25% of the Cambodian population. Pol Pot and the Kmher Rouge leadership eliminated cities, money, emotions, cooking, family, private property, smiling, and any type of individualism. Smiling? How can you eliminate smiling?  It can be eliminated by killing anybody who smiles.  Everyone was to be an extension of the state.  The state was a body.  The body worked to grow in power. When someone worked against this body, they were disposed of much like a weed in a garden is pulled up and tossed into the trash.

From his birth in 1925, to his death in 1998, the biography, Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare follows the unlikely and incompetent Pol Pot. His life is detailed as he ages from failing student to revolutionary uprising to Cambodian communist leader to dying jungle outlaw.  He is remembered in history primarily for the killing fields and the torture camps and the genocide-like massive destruction imposed on Cambodia.  This book digs much deeper into the politics of the times, the connections between the Kmher Rouge, the Chinese, and the Vietnamese, and the philosophy of the communists.

The book was long and dragged on with inscrutable detail. The number of players in the book was endless and the foreign names created an easy route into confusion.  The book contains an index of names with description, which helped, but slowed the reading down even more. Unless one is very interested in southeast Asian history, I would not recommend this book, but instead recommend this blog post which offers a shorter, but thorough glimpse into Pol Pot and the Kmher Rouge.  An excellent book that is more specific to the suffering under Pol Pot that I recommend is: To Destroy You Is No Loss: The Odyssey of a Cambodian Family.